Think of it as the Internet’s glory hole. A guy on your screen, young and nude, and, when you hit the ‘next’ button, another. An endless window of boys. “Want me to cum 4 u?” they type, delicately fingering the tip of their penis in mesmerizing circles. It is a spectacular of male sexuality, available to view from your bed… which has an empty tub of hummus in it.
You will also be on video. I am on video, and I haven’t yet learned that I should probably hide my face, for fear of being splashed across amateur porn sites. (Think of this as the Internet’s STD.) My face on video is make-up less, my hair matted and grease-slicked at the roots, but I am not looking at myself. I am looking at the guy who is jerking off and moving his hips back and forth so furiously that his webcam has shifted, showing his furrowed brow, lips moving. I flick on the sound.
“I want to fuck you,” he growls in an accent. “I want to… fffuck you.”
I am a tangle of dirty sheets, dirty hair, dilated pupils, and I want to hit ‘next’ just one more time. I almost forget that before going onto Omegle, this chat site, I had needed a cigarette. Outside of myself, peering in there is a particular headspace, a feeling of male-ness… a feeling I’ve known since childhood. A feeling that inside, I am more of a boy since its only woman who is gendered, woman who was, I learned as a child, made from the ribcage of a man, eating sins and apples.
My finger hovers above the ‘next’ button, and I wonder if this is how people who identify as ‘porn addicts’ feel. This video chat site, it seems, should be my porn. Should be lots of women’s porn. Here was a place where young men masturbate for you, to you, and wasn’t there something subversive in this? What I wanted here, I think, was to subvert.
My friend Julia, a reporter, sits on the sofa, and I sift through my closet, tossing dresses to the floor in a silky sequined pile. We are going to The Slipper Room, a burlesque space in the Lower East Side for a friend’s birthday; although we both agree that burlesque is boring.
I pull a sheer pink dress with a lace collar, “Lolita?” I ask.
Julia is talking about a guy from OkCupid, how they had sex, drunk, with her tights around her ankles. She had pulled the tights off before her shoes, and so the tights hung, inside out, shoes inside, trailing behind her as she swam across the bed, fluid from blowjob to penetration.
The sex was rough. He slapped her in the face, and Julia’s jaw was sore for the next five days.
“Do you think it’s an ‘end of men’ sort of thing?” she asks. “That as women rise in power, men are frustrated? Like, you know, this OkCupid guy, all these guys, they don’t do BDSM… this is what regular guys do without knowing proper techniques. This is not a power exchange… this is resentment.”
“I blame porn,” I say, pulling the Lolita dress over my head, arms flailing behind its film-y float-y shape.
From my laptop speakers, Lil Wayne plays. “Two bitches at the same time,” says Wayne. “Synchronized swimmers.”
“Sometimes, I feel like I am totally anti-porn,” I say.
I say that when I’ve gone to tube sites or whatever, I feel this sort of empty sick in my stomach that it’s always the same image, always a woman demeaned and submitting. Teen anal gang bang, Japanese girl submits, black slut with two cocks projected into the retinas of twelve year old boys, images of women getting pleasure solely by being demeaned, being told, “You like that don’t you.” The male viewer rewarded with orgasm, as the women answer “U-huh, I do,” every time.
I can’t be pro-porn if this is 95% of porn. Cannot be a pro porn feminist, if I can’t follow up the acknowledgement that while Sasha Grey liked her violent scenes, while women can want to be submissive, that these are typical and sexist fantasies, and what do these images do in a larger sense?
“How am I supposed to call myself pro-porn when it’s a handful of male-owned LA companies that have a global monopoly?” I say.
(And I feel like I am in a car that won’t slow down, black through black night, a high-pitched screech, gritty asphalt between my teeth.)
“Yeah, maybe it’s just a symptom of the same thing, porn is becoming more violent… as women gain power,” Julia says.
I think of how Naomi Wolf says in The Beauty Myth that as women became more free so did pornography.
I wonder if the mainstream boys who choke, spit, and hit only do so with certain girls. With ones they deem ‘down’, ‘dtf.’
I like that Julia is a woman who knows what she wants. Once, flitting from from bar to bar, she started speaking Spanish to a guy on the street, then announced she was going to go on with him. Julia told me that she has slept with hundreds of men on OkCupid. And I like that Julia is a woman who knows when she is angry.
“I can’t decide how to wear this,” I say, glancing at myself in the mirror, and throwing my hair over one shoulder. “Do I need red lipstick? Or a flower crown?”
“The flower crown,” advises Julia, checking her nails, which are dark and shiny.
“C-c-c-call me,” offers Lil Wayne, “so I can get it juicy for ya.” It’s party music, because it’s music about fucking, which makes it sell to a mass audience, a white audience; which maybe makes it also a sort of sex work. And in this power dynamic, the feeling that it is racist when white people hate rap music for its misogyny.
In the dim light of my bedroom, I try to decide if the boy on Omegle is too underage. He could be 15, sometimes they are clearly 13, and I make myself hit ‘next’ but probably not quickly enough.
There are two boys on the camera, and they have a system: One brother stands up close, and takes out his penis, while the other leaves the room for two minutes, then they rotate.
“I want you to do it side by side,” I type. Their faces pinken, and I hear them talking to each other in Turkish. One brother leaves.
“I am only interested if you do it side by side,” I type. The brother looks to the left, and shouts something. The other brother comes back into the room; they are talking quickly.
“No, we can’t do that.” he types.
I hit ‘next’.
The more time I spend on the site, the less patience I seem to have. Or maybe, the more sure I am of what I want.
“Can you bend over and then finger yourself from behind,” a boy with brown eyes types to me. “And look around at me, okay but slower?”
I type that I can’t cum that way. That I need to lay here, naked, in a comfortable position, and watch them.
“Can you bounce that ass?”
“Stand up, and show pussy.”
I hit ‘next’, hard.
Sometimes, on the site, you come across other women. This excited me at first, and I paused, but she would immediately hit ‘next’. Now I find myself doing the same thing, hitting ‘next’ instantaneously, almost repulsively, I realize.
We arrive at The Slipper Room.
I kiss my birthday friend on her cheek. On stage, a man in a monkey costume suggestively peels a banana. “Boo,” my friend says. “I came here to see women!” She is turning 25, and she is wearing a leopard print pencil dress. She is a successful producer, the youngest at her company.
I leave a tab open at the bar for whiskeys. When my friend Nichole, a writer and novelist, arrives, we hug and find an abandoned table near the stage.
“I’m shocked that it’s all like, sorority girls in the audience,” she shouts over the music.
I look at the candlelit women with long brown hair, and am surprised at the number of bachelorette parties. One table have fairy penis wands, they wave and bop one and other on the head with them.
The show is impressive. There are women expertly hanging from aerial scarves, peeling out of rhinestone mesh, from behind opulent feathers. On stage, a performer grabs a pile of money and rubs it over her body, bills with their faces of old presidents and all-seeing eye pyramids, mouth open in ecstasy. She twirls a five dollar bill a into a rosebud, and with the kick of a heel, slips it in her g-string, it’s a beautiful image, really: Money raining all around her, money growing from her ass.
“When did this start happening, do you think?” Nichole asks.
“Neo-burlesque?” I say, sipping a Basil Haydens, neat.
“I mean,” she says, “Women objectifying other women…”
“I guess… porn wars. I think it happened when feminism split into pro- and anti-porn,” I say, evenly.
“From a feminist perspective, yeah it’s reclaiming,” says Nichole. “But I am curious, what about it from a Marxist perspective?”
“It’s…just another industry, I guess.”
Nichole nods, and we go tip the woman on stage.
I stuff bills into her lacey rosette bra, and let my hand slide along her torso, which is brown and oiled with glitter. I wonder, as I am doing it, if this is fucked up.
What are the ways in which I express control and manipulation? What are the ways in which I submit?
There is an idea, rooted maybe in Eve, that a sexually “promiscuous” woman would destroy society. That to be a man is to contain uncontrollable desire and so we, as women, must keep control by becoming chaste.
It is not that women don’t want to fuck, don’t want to luxuriate in masturbation for entire evenings, but that the cost of doing so is too steep, it is to be scarlet-stamped, and so we are distanced from our desires, allowed only to co-opt men’s. And so my desire becomes being desired.
Omegle has become less fun. Now, they ban you for nudity, like Chatroulette.
The new thing is to add Omegle boys on a fake Skype account. I try to choose shy eyes, boys with slight tummies. I tell them to cum for me and then afterward I type, “I love you.” I do it to watch their pupils dilate; to be embedded in their brains.
On the other end of the camera, I am sweaty and make-up less and my room smells like girl: Dirty underwear like over-ripe apples, starchy. My armpits onion-y.
“Doesn’t it take forever to jerk off this way,” I type to one of them. “Doesn’t it take forever to find a girl? We seem rare on the site.”
“Not as rare as you’d think,” he types, rolling a cigarette and licking the paper. “But they are mostly not very attractive. Mostly not like you.” His eyes are oblong, snake colored.
These men tell me to meet them on Skype again but I abandon the address, and forget the password. If these relationships were to go on, I feel, I would find myself more trapped by lust, would find myself watching myself on camera, unable to cum.
They would become like real-life seductions, where, as I fall for someone, I force my body into some feminine ideal, running endlessly on the elliptical, aware of what I am doing, even of why I am doing it. Listening to something like “Convert Me” by Trina, on loop, a song that always feels so sad for me:
I never thought I’d put the dress on, fuck me heels on
Got the brazilian for my thong, got my hair done
Whatever you want,
I’ll be your good girl fantasy
And I’ll let you convert me, convert me/ Baby you can convert, convert me,
Look at how you change me, quickly rearranged me
I’m going insane see, look at what you turned me to
I put your name on this pussy only if you earn it, boo.
At Slipper Room, upstairs in a booth, we overlook a chandeliered stage. The monkey-costumed person comes over, offering phallic banana bites for tips, I swat him away, a fly in my face.
“Rabbit?” someone asks me. “Have you ever fucked someone famous?”
“Hmmm.” I think. “I mean… that’s not really my thing. I always wanted to feel like I was the famous one, you know?”
I go for the ones who are doe-eyed for me. But I will dye my hair brown, if he likes brunettes, because lust is an all-powerful force, one that for women, is connected to standards and products. And if you can sell lust, you can own a people.
As a child, sex frightened me, a fear of condoms in truck stops, of crude drawings in bathrooms, of the parental consent forms for sex ed. As an adult, I viewed this as cultural conditioning, learning that sex is bad or dirty, but my child self who already knew things about being a girl, about being touched and fussed over, being told to be polite, could sense something ominous, maybe.
I’m not sure that it is ever possible to truly subvert.
The last time I was on Omegle, I was on deadline though not writing. My hair was ratted with nests, my feet in mis-matched socks, I had not stepped into the shower in four days. I had not left my house. I was hitting next, next, next, cum, cum, cocks. And, on my screen, for a split-second, was a girl with delicate false eyelashes, breasts like glimmering half moons, lips iridescent and pink with gloss.
“No, don’t!” I thought. “You are ruining it,” But I knew, it was ruined already.